A mobile application to improve safety and prevent crime

Maintaining a peaceful coexistence and encouraging social cohesion is never an easy task and always presents a challenge for cities. Nowadays, however, we have access to technology that can serve as a useful tool for promoting better communication between citizens, the public administration and law enforcement.

In December 2013, a joint initiative between the local council of Cornellà de Llobregat (Barcelona) and the private company, Einsmer, led to the town investing in one of these technologies in the form of a public safety mobile application. The result was an extremely intuitive, easy-to-use and accessible-to-all application that aims to safeguard citizens 365 days a year.

The App allows residents to notify the local police (Guàrdia Urbana) of any incident observed, quickly dial emergency numbers, receive alerts and general or personalised warnings, facilitate the location of vulnerable people, send emergency geo-located messages to the local police command centre and obtain and divulge pedagogical information related to preventive safety and first aid.

Furthermore, the system used by the application allows for inter-territorial cooperation that optimises resources and services between different municipalities and security forces, enhances collaboration between administrations and promotes citizen empowerment. The technical tool must be understood as a complement to the work carried out by Cornellà’s urban police force, governed by the Local Security Plan (PLASECOR), which includes actions designed to prevent conflicts before they occur. It promotes the participation of the different security actors, the assumption of responsibilities in its implementation and the promotion of joint and transversal work with the different security forces and the citizens.

The versatility of the application means it can be adapted to specific needs or new approach strategies proposed by the administration. For example, in 2019, Cornellà de Llobregat Municipal Council and the company Einsmer added a new alert function to the application aimed exclusively at assisting women who experience gender-based violence or suffer public harassment.

The system works with two levels of security: level 1, intended only for women in situations of gender-based violence with restraining orders against their aggressors (an alert that can be activated without having to unlock the phone), and level 2, intended for public harassment alerts, which is activated from the mobile’s home screen and puts the victim in direct contact the local police command centre.

In both cases, the security alerts reach the local police immediately through a geo-location and tracking feature, which activates an assistance protocol and alerts the local police officer closest to the victim so that they can reach the scene as quickly as possible. In addition, the user’s data is never shared and is only visible to police officers when the citizen requests assistance.

In order to share initiatives such as this with other cities, Cornellà de Llobregat Municipal Council has recently joined the EFUS and FEPSU municipality networks.


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A facial recognition technology has been declared illegal in Canada

Clearview’s controversial practice of collecting and selling billions of faceprints was dealt a heavy blow by a Canadian commissioner.

Clearview, founded in 2017 by Australian entrepreneur Hoan Ton-Thatand, is in the business of collecting what it calls “faceprints”, which are unique biometric identifiers similar to someone’s fingerprint or DNA profile, from photos people post online.

Canadian authorities have found that the collection of facial-recognition data by Clearview is illegal because it violates federal and provincial privacy laws, representing a win for individuals’ privacy and potentially setting a precedent for other legal challenges to the controversial technology.

A joint investigation of privacy authorities led by the Office of the Commissioner of Canada came to this conclusion, claiming that the New York-based company’s scraping of billions of images of people from across the internet represented mass surveillance and infringes on the privacy rights of Canadians.

Moreover, the investigation found that Clearview had collected highly sensitive biometric information without people’s knowledge or consent and then used and disclosed this personal information for inappropriate purposes that would not be appropriate even if people had consented.

Since 2019, the company has faced legal challenges to its technology and business practices, part of a larger question of whether facial-recognition technologies being developed by myriad companies—including companies like Microsoft and IBM—should be legal at all.

To date, Clearview has amassed a database of billions of these faceprints, which it sells to its clients. It also provides access to a smartphone app that allows clients to upload a photo of an unknown person and instantly receive a set of matching photos.

One of the biggest arguments in his company’s defence that Ton-Thatand has made in published reports is that there is significant benefit in using its technology in law enforcement and national security, which outweighs the privacy concerns of individuals. Furthermore, Clearview is not to blame if law enforcement misuses its technology.

The decision in Canada will likely help other legal challenges not only to Clearview’s technology but facial recognition in general. Last May, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Clearview for privacy violations in Illinois, a case that is ongoing. Lawmakers in the United States even have proposed a nationwide ban on facial recognition.

The technology also raises questions of racial bias and the potential for false accusations against innocent people.  In December two black men filed a case against police in Michigan, saying they were falsely identified by facial-recognition technology—specifically, DataWorks Plus, which is used by Michigan State Police.


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US police practise with a robot dog

Several US police departments have deployed the cyber-K-9 robotic dog in different situations, including hostage situations. Those in favour of using it say robots can help keep police officers safe, but critics are worried about how they might be used without clear political guidelines.

The robot is equipped with cameras, lights and a bidirectional communication system that allows the operator controlling it to see and hear its environment in real-time. The New York Police Department (NYPD) acquired the robot in December 2020 and has so far deployed it in active duty three times, the last of which was a few days ago, when it climbed the stairs of an apartment in the Bronx looking for two suspects in an ongoing investigation.

The robot, sold as a “Spot” by robotics company Boston Dynamics, costs US$74,000. NYPD officials have described it as a promising new technology that could save lives and reduce the risk for law enforcement officers, gathering information in places of risk and removing the need to send humans into compromised situations. (Last autumn, for example, it was used to send food into a hostage situation in Queens).

“The NYPD has been using robots since the 1970s to save lives in hostage situations & hazardous incidents,” the department said on Twitter. “This model of robot is being tested to evaluate its capabilities against other models in use by our emergency service unit and bomb squad”.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, says the deployment of the technology for police surveillance also raises other issues. Could the robot be autonomous? Is it a good investment at a time when communities are examining the relationship between police officers and citizens?

There are questions around whether the police will be transparent, have clear policies on the use of the technology, and ensure that the public is part of the conversation every step of the way.

Boston Dynamics, the manufacturer of the robot, said a clause had been added to the lease that prevented Spot from being used to in any way physically harm or intimidate people.

The Honolulu Police Department is using a Spot primarily to take action in a tent city for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic. This deployment has also been controversial, albeit for different reasons: according to the Honolulu Civil Beat, the robot dog was bought with almost US$150,000 in federal coronavirus aid money.

John McCarthy, deputy director of the department, said in a statement that the robot had other uses related to the pandemic, including thermal imaging and the delivery of food and medicines.

Much of this work is currently done by officers, some of whom are paid overtime. In the long run, the Spot robot will save money and keep officers safe.


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Is the world ready for facial recognition drones?

Some of the first drones with advanced facial recognition capabilities are being developed by Israeli surveillance companies, as North-American police consider whether they will soon be adding the controversial technology to their unmanned flying machines.

As a sign of the imminent arrival of biometric identification from the air, an Israeli start-up previously-funded by Microsoft has patented technologies for drone-based facial recognition. Tel Aviv-based AnyVision filed a patent application detailing technology to help a drone find the best angles for a facial recognition shot, before trying to find a match for the target by referring to faces stored in a database.

The patent aims to iron out some of the complexities of identifying faces from a flying machine. Various obvious issues arise when trying to recognise someone from a drone: acquiring an angle at which a face can be properly captured and being able to get good-quality visuals whilst moving. Both are considerably harder than getting a match from static footage.

U.S. military agencies have been trying to come up with solutions, including the Advanced Tactical Facial Recognition at a Distance Technology project at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude and Range initiative.

But private industry may get there first. In December 2020, it was revealed AnyVision executives had partnered with an Israeli defence supplier for a new joint venture called SightX. In demos provided to Israeli media in late 2020, SightX’s small drones didn’t have any facial recognition capabilities, though executives said the feature was coming soon. It’s unclear if the tech is for the military only or if it will be sold to police agencies.

What is clear is that the technology is ready for launch. AnyVision CEO Avi Golan told Forbes that whilst AnyVision didn’t have any in-production drones with facial recognition, they would be a reality soon. He pointed to the fact that delivery drones would potentially require facial recognition to determine whether they’ve reached the correct buyer. Amazon has already patented similar tech, pointing to its potential plans for its experimental drone delivery fleet.

As for when North-Americans can expect police drones with facial recognition, even if police agencies aren’t immediately planning to send them to the skies, there’s an expectation they will arrive in one form or another.


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Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential uses Within law Enforcement

A few days ago, this blog covered a report analysing the growing number of devices on the Internet of Bodies and their potential opportunities, risks and governance. Among the devices discussed were ‘wearables’: technology worn on the body to capture data on the wearer’s health.

The RAND Corporation has published a report [1] on the potential uses of these wearable devices within law enforcement. The report is the result of a workshop held on behalf of the National Institute of Justice in the USA, in which also participated the Police Executive Research Forum.

The workshop was attended by law enforcement practitioners, researchers, and developers and their approach to the issue was articulated around four questions:

  • What is the current state and immediate future of wearable sensor technology (WSTs)?
  • How do they intersect with law enforcement interests, both for the individual officer and the agency?
  • What specific challenges does this technology present for data privacy, ownership, and citizens?
  • What are the salient issues associated with WSTs, and what are specific ways to address them?

Examples of the devices considered include wrist bands, chest straps, and smart textiles to collect and analyse officers’ health-related biomarkers and inform operational decision-making.

The main conclusions reached included the following:

  • Currently, the more affordable WSTs do not yet meet the levels of accuracy and precision needed to be useful as a decision-making support tool in law enforcement. In contrast, WSTs that meet these requirements are used in medical settings but are either cost-prohibitive or not portable.
  • The workshop participants believed that the short-term focus should be on preparing police organisations and their officers for a time when the technology will be more applicable to law enforcement roles.
  • The future will depend on how these devices can be adapted to officers’ daily tasks and how they can be integrated with the technology that law enforcement already carries. The measurements need to be valid and reliable, their interpretation needs to be clear, and policies need to be in place to manage and monitor the data. WST has the potential to assess an officer’s ability to work and help commanders decide which tasks to assign to which officers.
  • Law enforcement organisations need to participate in the development of these devices, as their requirements may not be the same as those for commercial devices.

 [1] Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential uses Within law Enforcement. Identifying High-Priority Needs to Improve Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness Using Wearable Sensor Technology. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA108-7.html


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Capteurs et technologie prêt-à-porter pour les forces de l’ordre

Il y a quelques jours, nous avons évoqué sur ce blog l’essor des dispositifs de l’Internet des corps, sur la base d’une étude qui en analysait les opportunités, les risques et la gouvernance. Certains de ces dispositifs sont appelés wearables, ou dispositifs prêt-à-porter, c’est-à-dire qu’ils se portent sur le corps afin de capter des données relatives à la santé de l’utilisateur.

RAND Corporation a publié un rapport [1] sur les applications potentielles de ces dispositifs prêt-à-porter pour les forces de l’ordre. Ce rapport est le résultat d’un groupe de travail créé au nom du National Institute of Justice (Institut national de justice) des États-Unis, également participant, et du Police Executive Research Forum (Forum de recherche exécutif de la police).

Le groupe de travail, composé de policiers, de chercheurs et de développeurs, a examiné quatre questions de recherche :

  • Quel est l’état actuel de la technologie des capteurs wearables et comment évoluera-t-elle dans un avenir proche ?
  • Quels sont les points d’intersection entre ces technologies et les intérêts des forces de l’ordre, tant pour les agents que pour les organisations policières ?
  • Quels défis spécifiques ces technologies présentent-elles pour la confidentialité des données, leurs titulaires et les citoyens ?
  • Quelles sont les questions clés associées aux technologies des capteurs wearables et quelles approches spécifiques y appliquer ?

Des dispositifs tels que des bracelets, des ceintures de poitrine et des tissus intelligents permettent de collecter des biomarqueurs liés à la santé des agents de police, fournissant ainsi des informations pour la prise de décision opérationnelle.

Voici quelques-unes des principales conclusions auxquelles le groupe de travail est parvenu :

  • Les capteurs wearables abordables n’utilisent pas encore une technologie assez développée et ne disposent pas du niveau de précision requis pour en faire des outils potentiels d’aide à la prise de décision pour les forces de l’ordre. Les dispositifs à usage médical, en revanche, répondent à ce critère de précision, mais leur prix est trop élevé ou leur port n’est pas assez pratique.
  • Les participants au groupe de travail estiment que l’objectif à court terme devrait être de préparer les organisations policières et leurs agents pour le moment où ces technologies pourront être appliquées au travail des forces de l’ordre.
  • L’avenir dépendra de l’adaptation de ces technologies aux tâches quotidiennes des agents, de leur intégration avec les objets technologiques qu’ils utilisent déjà, de leur capacité à fournir des mesures valables, fiables et faciles à interpréter, mais aussi des politiques relatives à la gestion et à l’analyse des données. Les technologies ont le potentiel d’évaluer les capacités de travail des policiers, ce qui aiderait les dirigeants à choisir les tâches qu’ils assignent à leurs agents.
  • Les forces de police doivent participer au développement de ces dispositifs, car leurs besoins pourraient être différents des besoins identifiés dans le cas des dispositifs commerciaux.

 [1] Wearable Sensor Technology and Potential uses Within law Enforcement. Identifying High-Priority Needs to Improve Officer Safety, Health, and Wellness Using Wearable Sensor Technology. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA108-7.html


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The Internet of Bodies as an evolution of the Internet of Things

We’ve published several entries and references in this blog about the Internet of Things. The dictionary Termcat defines the concept as a “network formed by a set of objects connected to the internet that can communicate with each other and with humans, and thus transmit and process data with or without human intervention”. Some of these connected objects and devices serve to capture, process and track data or information related to the human body. These objects or devices have become known as the Internet of Bodies (IoB). 

Most of these devices are related to health. At one end of the spectrum there are devices designed to perform medical functions, whether temporarily (e.g., pills to capture and transmit information from inside the body), or permanently (like the new-generation pacemakers). At the other, there are the ‘wearables’ which increasingly play a part in our daily lives, such as smartwatches or bracelets that record your physical activity or heart rate, beds that measure breathing, scales that record body weight, fat and water content, among other things, and clothing that regulates the wearer’s body temperature. [1]

In autumn 2020, the Rand Corporation published an investigation on the opportunities, risks and governance of these types of devices. On the one hand, the investigation explores the benefits, security and privacy risks and ethical implications of the Internet of Bodies. On the other, it asked what was being done in the United States to regulate the Internet of Bodies and the data being collected by these devices. Finally, it attempted to address the issue of what could be done to offset the risks and benefits of the Internet of Bodies.

With regard to privacy risks, there are concerns about who has access to the data and how they could potentially use it. In terms of security risks, they have the same flaws as other IoT devices, such as vulnerabilities that could allow unauthorised parties to access the device. However, given that these devices operate on the human body, should any of these potential dangers, damages or effects materialise the stakes would be much higher.

The rapid growth and development of these new technologies have led to a lack of regulations on their usage and little consensus on how existing laws can be applied or adapted. A considerable amount of awareness and hard work will also be required from developers and manufacturers to minimise or eliminate possible vulnerabilities in their devices.

For more information:

The Internet of Bodies Will Change Everything, for Better or Worse. – https://www.rand.org/blog/articles/2020/10/the-internet-of-bodies-will-change-everything-for-better-or-worse.html

The Internet of Bodies. Opportunities, Risks, and Governance https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3226.html

[1] The devices that form part of the Internet of Things have also been classified into three generations: the first being devices external to the body; the second, devices that operate inside the body, and the third being those merged with the body.


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Reciprocal radicalisation

Reciprocal radicalisation or cumulative extremism. These recent terms relate to a symbiotic political relationship whereby the extremism of one group fuels the narrative of the other.

According to James Hardy’s report published by the CARR Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, researchers have shown that the effects are a ratcheting up of violence inspired by the acts of diametrically opposed groupings, as with the 34 attacks on mosques following the brutal 22 May 2013 Islamist murder of Lee Rigby in London.

To date, much scholarship has focused on the relationship between radical-right and Islamist extremists, despite little empirical evidence for the actions of right-wing extremists directly inspiring the actions of radical Islamists, except in anomalous cases. By contrast, it is absolutely the case that Islamist extremists have inspired radical-right racism and even political violence.

Great Britain has exhibited a gradual ratcheting up of radical activism in recent months. Galvanised by American protests against the gruesome killing of George Floyd, UK protesters began to advance in the conflict. Yet far-right groups saw the desecration of statues – exemplified by the toppling of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol – as well as graffiti on war memorials and the Churchill statue in Parliament Square, as an attack on UK values and history.

Much like in the US, the two sides have now been thrown into direct conflict, as elements of the British radical-right used the protests to mobilise supporters. Hundreds of far-right activists made the trip to London in June to join protests in defence of statues, with Paul Golding, leader of the right-wing extremist group Britain First, stating they had turned out to “guard our monuments”.

In the United States, seemingly as a by-product of the Black Lives Matter movement, some far-left activists have fed into radical-right narratives.

Unlike the majority of left-wing activists, Antifa militants have used violence in some confrontations with the far right, as seen recently during a counter-demonstration against a ‘free speech demonstration’ staged in San Francisco.

Furthermore, riots, looting and periodic civic unrest in places like Portland have buttressed an increasingly mainstream right-wing perception that the views of Antifa and the Left, in general, are somehow incompatible with contemporary US society.

The recent protests have thrown these sides of the political divide into direct conflict, with members of both groups being accused of inciting the other.


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Your biometrics will be your best password

365.-baixaBiometrics are proving to be better than passwords because they’re easier to use, provide greater privacy and security, and are gaining standardisation across a broad base of mobile, desktop, and server devices that users rely on to access online services.

The security industry has been trying to kill the password for decades. It has long been viewed as a weakness, primarily because of the human element: people continue to use weak passwords, on multiple accounts, at work, and in their personal lives. 81% of data breaches involve weak, stolen, default, or otherwise compromised credentials, according to a Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

Lessons can be learned from the vendor Centrify who supported passwordless authentication and prioritised enforcing FIDO2[1]-based privileged administrator logins.

Centrify also supported Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID, as well as Windows Hello. Both Windows Hello and Windows Hello for Business are based on passwordless authentication.

Despite this, combining multiple forms of biometrics is proving problematic for the majority of vendors offering these technologies.

Product management teams have been studying the NIST 800-53[2] high-assurance authentication controls standard and integrating it into their roadmaps. The 170 controls that comprise the NIST 800-53 standard are being adopted quickly across the vendors who claim passwordless authentication as a core strength in their product strategies.

Using biometrics eliminates the risk of credential theft and provides better alignment with the NIST 800-53 high-assurance authentication controls standard.

Vendors of biometric tools are at varying levels of maturity when it comes to being able to capitalise on the metadata biometrics provides, with a few claiming to have real-time analytics. Every technology vendor had a different response to how they manage the massive amount of metadata being generated by their biometrics, which all claim also to support analytics.

Passwordless authentication ensures that login credentials are unique across every website, never stored on a server, and never leave the user’s device. This security model helps eliminate the risks of phishing, as well as all forms of password theft and replay attacks. We’re closer than ever before to the inevitable goal of a passwordless future.

[1]FIDO2: The FIDO2 Project is a joint effort between the FIDO Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium whose goal is to create strong authentication for the web. At its core, FIDO2 consists of the W3C Web Authentication standard and the FIDO Client to Authenticator Protocol.

[2] NIST 800-53: The NIST Special Publication 800-53 provides a catalogue of security and privacy controls for all US federal information systems except those related to national security.



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Use of facial recognition technology extended to airports across the USA

332.- baixaFacial recognition technology is already being used by 15 airports, including three outside the US, to increase the number of pre-approved travellers using the expedited customs process.

During the last three years, CBP – Customs and Border Protection – has been rolling out facial recognition programs at entry ports across the country, including the nation’s international airports. Now, the agency wants to extend the use of technology to their optional Global Entry programme.

The Global Entry programme allows frequent, “low-risk” travellers to bypass traditional border controls and go directly to baggage claim after visiting an automatic kiosk. To date, Global Entry at most airports consists of scanning the traveller’s passport and fingerprint at the machine before clearing them to enter the country.

But from now on, the CBP wants to speed-up the process by offering pre-approved Global Entry travellers the possibility of using facial biometrics, eliminating the need for a passport or digital fingerprint.

The CBP began implementing facial recognition for Global Entry through a pilot scheme at Orlando international airport in June 2018. The programme has since been extended to 14 other airports.

The agency released a privacy impact statement detailing how the programme will roll out at airports across the country, becoming the standard for Global Entry.

Global Entry kiosks already have cameras that take photos of travellers, although many of these will be updated or replaced as the programme is expanded. The CBP also plans to include privacy notices on the upgraded machines informing travellers of the new process.

Images captured by the kiosks will be saved to the Department of Homeland Security’s automated biometric identification system – IDENT, which the agency is in the process of transferring to HART, a new and more advanced cloud-based recognition database.

For greater accuracy when comparing photos for a facial recognition match, priority is given to photographs from travel documents as well as other recent photos.

According to the privacy statement, changing to facial recognition lowers the privacy risk to travellers because the programme already took photographs at the kiosks and no longer needs to collect digital fingerprints.

An important note in the impact statement clarifies that enrolees are not required to use the facial recognition program and can instead opt to use the passport and fingerprint method, which will remain available. Should any technical issues occur during the facial recognition scan, the kiosks will automatically revert to using the passport and digital fingerprint method.

Travellers will also still be required to provide a copy of their passport and fingerprints when signing-up to the Global Entry scheme.



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